It never hurts to return to your roots and when it comes to the Story of Seasons franchise, that saying hits home rather well. Ever since the 2015 shift that saw the familiar Harvest Moon name transform into Story of Seasons, fans have always had to keep an eye out as the games that they have come to know and love under the development name Bokujō Monogatari were now becoming a bit more muddied in the West.
With Harvest Moon titles still coming out from Natsume, it was up to XSEED and Marvelous to continue the series and so far they have seen quite a bit of success. Now what better way to remind everyone where the series shines than with a remake of perhaps one of their most popular entries ever, the 2003 release of Harvest Moon: Friends of Mineral Town now being released with its proper name, Story of Seasons: Friends of Mineral Town. With seventeen years to fill the gap and the transition from the GBA to the Switch, is this a worthwhile entry for fans of the franchise to pick up?
The set-up for Story of Seasons: Friends of Mineral Town remains as simple as ever. Players pick to play as either a boy or a girl and before being shown how when they were a child they once spent months on their grandfather’s farm and grew to love working with the animals, nature, and even becoming friends with another local child. After promising to return, many years have since passed and now the grandfathers’ farm now belongs to the player. Over time it has fallen into some disrepair as the field has gathered all kinds of debris and it is up to the player to try and bring it back up to snuff.
Similar to the original release, Story of Seasons: Friends of Mineral Town really doesn’t take the story too much further beyond that point as players are almost immediately given free reign to take and discover things on their own. While this is a bit of a disappointment as the lack of any kind of structure can be a bit disheartening at times, it also allows players to take and craft their own farm however they wish. It is worth noting that thanks to this clear start that leaves players with no real introduction, that a few elements that longtime fans may have taken for granted such as a starting pet and more are instead left to be discovered by players as there are numerous secrets hidden throughout Mineral Town and the town’s library..
While there is no real story to speak of, there are plenty of villagers to interact and become friends with in Mineral Town and their personalities really help brighten the game. It is worth noting that the title does feature a brand new localization effort so some names will be a bit different than longtime Harvest Moon fans may remember them but the personalities will remain the same. As players befriend characters, generally by simply talking with them and giving them gifts that they like, there will be special little scenes that can trigger when entering certain locations from time to time. Often these scenes don’t directly involve the player but help flesh out the townsfolk a bit more and breathe some extra life into the town even if the standard interaction dialogue quickly loses its luster since there are only so many variants available.
Of course, when it comes to actually becoming a bit more than friends with these characters, players now have more options than ever in this remake. Rather than force players to only be able to romance a bachelor or bachelorette of the opposite gender, there is now the option to potentially date and marry any of the candidates available in the game, including two brand new ones that were not included in the original release and the return of some more supernatural elements ones as well. This allows for players to see far more friendship and heart events with characters and learn more about them (even dating more than one at a time should the player choose) than they would originally and considering the array of personalities these romance options have, this is a great feature.
It is interesting to note that while Story of Seasons: Friends of Mineral Town may not feature any real tutorial or hand-holding right out of the gate, players will be able to choose from two difficulties when starting a game. There is the standard difficulty that everyone is familiar with as well as a Beginner Mode that gives players a boost at the start with extra money, better prices when shipping goods, and faster relationship gains with villagers and animals. This latter option may be great for those who are just now experiencing the series for the first time but anyone familiar with the series will want to go for the original difficulty even if it means an initial slow going.
While playing the game players will quickly find themselves falling into their own set routine even if they find the start a bit limiting as bag space remains at a premium, even with tools and items separated into different categories, and a stamina system that, while a bit forgiving thanks to a fatigue system that gives players a bit of leeway, is rather small until players find ways to increase it. This is far from a bad thing however as it is easy to regularly run out to the field, tend to the various crops planted at the time, perhaps swing by your animal pens and make sure your chickens, cows, and alpacas have been fed and brushed, before rushing out to the mountain and foraging for items to ship for a bit of extra cash or to give as gifts to the many townsfolk that all have their own schedules and sets of likes and dislikes.
The various crops are all fairly easy to manage as one may expect, with certain plants only growing in certain seasons though longtime fans will notice a few new vegetables and trees making their way to the game this time around and the livestock have also been expanded a bit to feature a few new types of cows that can produce flavored milk and even special pets that, when unlocked, can come in a variety of different types that can be rather unusual. If trying to run the farm becomes a bit too much for the player or they want to risk expanding a bit then then the Harvest Sprites once again make a clear and obvious return.
These sprites, once befriended, can help out for periods of time by watering crops, feeding and taking care of livestock, and harvesting crops and while they may be a bit slow at first, the extra help quickly becomes appreciated especially since there always is a little something extra to do in Friends of Mineral Town. This includes mining for rare ores in the mountain mine, taking part in festivals, and of course trying to befriend and possibly woo a husband or wife. There is plenty to do and while things may quickly feel like they are becoming routine, it is a steady and enjoyable one that remains as charming as the series always has been.
Visuals & Audio
Considering the massive jump in time between the original release and Story of Seasons: Friends of Mineral Town, it is quite evident that the sprites of old are long gone and instead a new 3D world has taken its place. The art direction leans heavily on focusing on cuteness more than anything else, especially when it comes to the animals that players can raise, while the human character models are a bit too simplistic at times for their own good, especially compared to how their portraits look when they are talking to the player. A few of the character portraits have undergone something of a facelift but many remain very similar to how fans will remember them and this is a nice bonus. Unfortunately the actual town designs can be a bit disappointing at times as it really doesn’t change up too much outside of a few seasonal events where the whole town undergoes a refreshing, albeit temporary, facelift.
The soundtrack for the game features a great collection of soothing and relaxing pieces of background music that fit perfectly with the style of the game while the sound effects from using tools and the various noises from the livestock and animals remain true to series form.
Story of Seasons: Friends of Mineral Town may be a simpler farming game than what fans have grown used to in recent years but this remake of the 2003 classic remains as charming and enjoyable as ever. With a number of little additions to help make the game more enjoyable for all types of players, it is hard not to find yourself quickly losing hours of time thanks to how gratifying and enjoyable the routine of farming and interacting with the townsfolk becomes.